Friday, January 15, 2010

Root of All Evil

This week a favorite comedian of mine Lewis Black launched the premier of his new show entitled “The Root of all Evil” on Comedy Central’s network. The premise is simple. A mock debate is held examining two things from our culture (this week it was the Catholic Church vs. Oprah Winfrey), to determine which one better represents the “root of all evil”. At the show’s conclusion, Lewis makes the decision of who wins … or loses as your perspective might be inclined. The show is OK but does not present itself to be a runaway hit (too little Lewis Black, too much debate). But it did get me thinking about where evil stems from in our world. Is it all internal to us? Is it truly our nature? Are we to blame? Does blame even matter?

Where does evil come from within us? Lewis might have you believe it comes from worshipping Oprah too much. Some say the easy catch phrase, “the devil made me do it”. Some do not believe that a devil truly exists. So where does evil come from? We recognize evil when we see it; usually of course, in others, not in ourselves. We ‘know’ it is evil because it causes ‘us’ pain. Nothing ‘good’ would cause ‘us’ pain, therefore it must be evil. Then comes the question, why would this evil be perpetrated on us? What did we ever do to deserve this evil treatment? For those that subscribe to the idea that there is no devil at all, I wonder what conclusion they reach regarding this phenomenon.

But it is all too easy, to simply write off evil behavior as devil originated. That is a cop-out Christians like to use rather than examine the issue any deeper and find evil has origins within them. It is also a bit egotistical to believe that the supreme master of evil has his full attention directed solely at you so that you … run the red light, break your diet, miss a commitment; you get the idea. I doubt the devil needs to trouble himself for you to participate in these menial evil tributes. No, more likely these patterns of shortcut and self indulgence start right within you. Within the core of who you are. Not a pleasant prospect I grant you.

Where does this desire to gratify self come from? When you think about evil in terms of behavior, you begin to see a real pattern emerge. Most every ‘sin’ you can identify starts with the concept of somehow pleasing one’s self. Theft, lust, gluttony, adultery, fornication all have to do with immediate gratification without regard to consequences. Lies, murder, even wars, have to do with covering up bad behavior once it has been committed. Disregarding God, treating people as objects, greed, apathy to the environment or to others – all have to do with a consistent focus on self at the expense of others. Self. Looking inward. Trying to please #1. It is all the true root of all evil. And that root seems to have taken hold in all of us.

Is it pure genetics? Another way for Christians to rationalize their evil deeds, is by writing them off to inheritance. My mom did it, and my grandma before her, so if I do it, I am predisposed by my genetic code. Anyway go back far enough and you can simply blame Adam for dooming our inherent natures. Or can you? Is it really your mom’s fault that YOU are so self oriented? Did your parents teach you to disregard all others in order to gratify self? For that to truly have happened there had to have been no discipline for you as a child, no sense of right and wrong ever instilled within you by anyone or anything in your environment. And now, I am talking literally only about people like Charles Manson (apologies to his parents if I am wrong). Charlie just did not seem to understand the difference between right and wrong and it came out in his behavior. But if you’re able to stay out of prison, and refrain from killing innocents, you must have some sort of moral compass. Weak as it may be, it can hardly be blamed on your genetics as now you are of the age of reason and accountability.

The blame for this condition is an interesting question as well. Genetics do predispose you to certain behaviors but do not dictate you perform them. Once patterns of behavior have become habits, or worse addictions, they can be extraordinarily hard to curtail, but addicts can experience recovery should they choose to begin the process of healing. So where does blame enter in? Do we blame the criminally insane for their behavior, or do we excuse it to a certain extent due to their “illness.” Aren’t we all ‘sick’ with our sinful condition? Does God look at us and see us as criminally insane. Who else but a lunatic would choose to inflict pain on themselves and others? Yet ALL of us do this on a daily basis, sometimes with premeditation, sometimes with absolute malice of forethought, sometimes based on the spur-of-the-moment. But we do it. We choose to inflict pain on ourselves and on others. Why? Are we in fact criminally insane? Is there any real difference between us and Charlie Manson short the murders? And more to the point, does our insanity somehow excuse our behavior.

That is often what people look for, an excuse to misbehave, rather than a way to stop misbehaving. We all gripe about the length of the red light on the road, and the never ending traffic, and slow pokes in front of us – until when presented with a questionable call we run the ‘yellow’ light and try to get home five minutes faster. An accumulation of excuses, to ‘justify’ our errant behavior. When placed beside a grieving parent for the loss of the child who dies in a car accident from our running a red light, the entire line of reasoning seems petty at best. All of the sudden our selfish nature has accidentally inflicted catastrophic calamity on others – all for a mere five minutes early arrival at home from work. Can the grief be reduced by pointing out the tragedy of never-ending traffic? I doubt it.

So how do we kill this ravenous beast that lives within us? How do we dispel this insatiable need to gratify self at every moment of the day? Maybe it takes killing us. Maybe this is why Christ referred to being born-again when counseling Nicodemus late one evening. To die to self, and be reborn for service to others. The nature of God is to serve. The nature of Satan is to gratify self. These two concepts are mutually exclusive. They can have no part in each other. There is no compromise here. One path leads to misery, and the murder of the creator of all life. The other leads to bliss, and an eternity of meaningful existence. Comparatively, it would take an insane person to choose death and misery.

But what about the blind? What about those who do not believe that a life of self gratification is really such a bad thing? Honestly any level of introspection would quickly dispel this idea. But those who wish to live in a state of immediate gratification do not WANT to hear truth. They reject it, not because they truly disagree with it, but because they do not WANT to hear it. The Pharisees in the day of Christ, rejected Him, not because they were unconvinced of His true nature. They rejected Him because He would have forced a complete change in how they thought about service to God and others. They liked the religion of power, and prowess they had constructed. They enjoyed the feelings of supremacy that came from looking down on publicans, harlots, and Samaritans. They studied scripture to gain supremacy of knowledge and of self made righteousness. They wanted no part in humble service to others. They did not want to see themselves how they truly were. Nor do we. But neither they, nor we, are truly blind – we both pretend to be blind. We close our ears to truth that requires change because we do not want to know we need it. We crave to feed the selfish beast inside us, and we must have silence of truth, to keep out beast well fed, and ‘happy’. Nobody wants a downer.

Therein lays the mystery of iniquity, how self-destructive behavior is passed-off as the better way to go. It is a mystery to the Universe at large, how we so quickly buy in to this level of crud. Is it so hard to see truth? Or do we just work hard to avoid ever coming in contact with it? And if so, why? It makes no sense. We must tear the blinders off of our eyes and seek truth. We must pull the cotton from our ears and hear truth. We must not fear to change, but embrace change. We must not fear surrender to God, but embrace surrender even to the point of our very lives. For a life of evil is not worth living, but a life of service and meaning is what heaven is all about. Let us not choose to be blind, nor just habitually wander into evil, rather let us search for our God to heal us, to restore our souls, to hold us in His bosom and bring us peace. Let us choose to serve rather than be served…

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